Business column: Don’t let age discrimination hinder your job search
November 16, 2012
After several interviews, Joe was still unemployed. “It’s maddening,” he said. “The phone never rings. I know I’m a qualified candidate and I’ve done all the right things. I just can’t get that job offer.”
“Let’s pinpoint the problem, I suggested. “What are we missing?”
“I think I know what it is,” Joe said.
“Really, what?” I asked.
He pointed to his head. “Too much snow on the roof.”
I glanced up at a neatly coifed head of white hair. His candid response made me chuckle but I knew his tongue-in-cheek pronouncement was no laughing matter. Joe was talking about age discrimination.
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The word “discrimination” makes us squirm, like scraping fingernails across a chalkboard. Even though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects workers against all types of discrimination, it still exists and yes, it’s hard to prove. Age discrimination usually begins by age 40, but sometimes earlier. There are a few reasons why employers discriminate against older workers. More experience usually commands a higher salary; there’s potential for higher health care costs; there is fear that an older worker will be “stuck in their ways.” Employers bristle at the thought of breaking old habits. Stereotyping? Maybe. But if you’re in this predicament, it’s up to you to present yourself as a worthy competitor against younger counterparts.
Consider these tips:
Resume and application: Eliminate all age references on your resume. No dates for school attendance, graduation or military service. Limit work history to 10 years, in some cases 15 years is acceptable. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by attempting to show off your lofty experience. Employers will do the math. It’s illegal to include any age inquiries on the job application. Individuals over the age of 40 are in a protected class. Know your rights.
Salary: Provide a range to satisfy salary inquiries instead of boxing yourself into a specific number. Unless otherwise stated, use “open” or “willing to negotiate.” Know the salary standards that pertain to you. Take all things into consideration, including the employer’s vantage point. Are there likely to be a lot of candidates? Is this job opening rare in your locality? Who might your competition be? Is there a benefit package included? When negotiating salary allow for wiggle room but stay competitive.
Health: You are not required to disclose health information to an employer unless it relates directly to the job. Do not do so voluntarily. Never ask questions pertaining to health benefits during an interview. Consider this: the vitality you display is worth a thousand words. Be energetic and enthusiastic but also genuine. Stay fit. Exercise helps with weight control and it elevates mood as well. It can change your outlook and attitude. Make it part of your routine.
Keep current: Keep current with trending technology and new techniques. What’s happening in your industry today? Be prepared to discuss these topics in an interview. Network with existing workers in the field. Read the latest publications. Change happens rapidly. Employers want people who fit into today’s environment. Do you?
Mirror, mirror on the wall: Job seekers have colored their hair, crash dieted and some have even undergone cosmetic surgery to appear more youthful. The latter is a bit drastic, I agree. But find a middle ground. Take a look in the mirror. If you haven’t updated your look in the last 20 years, consider making some changes. A fresh haircut, clean-shaven face, a splash of makeup or an updated ensemble can make all the difference with minimal effort. If help is needed, consult a fashion-savvy individual, perhaps a department store clerk or friend. Consignment shops offer decent options to avoid overspending. Bring your style current ladies and gentlemen. It matters.
Company culture: In order to determine if you are a good fit, research company culture. What is the average age of the employee population? What can you bring to the table? Are you familiar with practices and philosophies applied here? Who is on the management team? What about management style? An informational interview might help with these questions. Be informed, not blindsided.
If you need to file a claim because you have been the victim of age discrimination documentation is key. This applies to current workers who are marginalized due to age or other discriminating factors. You can file a complaint at: http://www.eeoc.gov. This website will guide you through the process.
– Gloria Sinibaldi is a career professional who has worked in the employment field for more than 20 years. She is a trainer coach and job developer. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.